Your ability to anticipate, respond to and maximize the results from changes to your external environments are the key drivers of success.” - Stuart Cross

Business agility is all about being prepared for and able to quickly adapt to change. There has been so much written about agility from gurus like Peter Drucker, industry analysts like Forrester and Gartner, and the large well-respected community of process improvement practitioners that it would seem there is nothing new left to be said. Well, challenge accepted.

Here in my first 2012 article of my ACM series is my perspective on agility, as influenced by my golden retriever Hayden who competed for many years in Dog Agility. He helped me form some truths I’d like to share that I believe apply equally to business agility.

Agility is about being better than the competition. In business, agility has become a competitive necessity -- we need organizational and operational agility to thrive and perhaps to even survive in today’s markets. In the canine world, agility is literally a competitive team sport -- with winners and losers just as in business. Dogs and their human handlers compete together to complete the agility course in the best time with the most accuracy.

Case Management as World-Class Agility Handler

As a self-admitted dog lover, it is not surprising that my views on agility are colored by my experiences in that world as well as the world of business. And, as a raving fan of business process and case management, it is also no surprise that I see this technology as critical to achieving successful business agility.

What is dog agility?
Dog agility is a competitive sport in which a handler directs a dog though an obstacle course in a race for both time and accuracy. Courses are complicated enough that a dog could not complete them correctly without human direction. Handler controls are limited to voice, movem
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ent, and body signals, requiring exceptional training of the animal and coordination of the handler. In competition, the handler must assess the course, decide on handling strategies, and direct the dog through the course, with precision and speed equally important.

I think that case management is the perfect agility partner for the knowledge worker in business and performs many of the same functions that a world-class agility handler does. If case management is like a handler, then the knowledge worker is like my golden retriever in this analogy. [My apologies to those knowledge workers who might resent this comparison; please understand this is the highest form of compliment in my world view.]

I believe business can learn a lot about what it takes to succeed from how a golden retriever approaches things. Here are my four truths about agility for your consideration:

Four Truths About Achieving Agility Success

1. Be Fearless 

In dog agility, the course and milestones are set differently each time and thus the events unfold differently each time. Though the golden does not know what order things might be happening, he does know he must run fast and be responsive to his handler to win. So the Golden is confident and attacks the course without hesitation and knows that helping him get there, providing the guardrails for success, is his handler.

That is exactly what can happen for knowledge workers using case management for unstructured ad hoc business processes. Their guidance through business uncertainty or processes that emerge and play out differently each time can be orchestrated by case management who can organize all the information, tasks and events for faster decision making and better outcomes. They can attack the task at hand and not be afraid they will go “off track.” Regulatory rules and any other requirements (the business equivalent of hitting each course milestone) can be incorporated in the case solution. And, when an exception is encountered or a mistake is made, case management provides support to adjust to it or correct it quickly and proceed.

2. Focus on the Goal

In order to win, you need to be goal oriented. In fact business agility can be measured by how well we accomplish our goals. In dog agility, the golden knows not to let distractions sidetrack him during the running of the course. There will be noise at the sidelines and unexpected events can occur (like a bird attack on the course one day ☺), but that does not deter him from hitting his milestone goals. In business, the case management paradigm also has a goal orientation, and coordinates goals along with other core process elements like data and rules, enabling clear visibility and focus on the goals for the knowledge worker and supervisors, managers and executives. Case also provides the flexibility and support to meet goals in different ways, just as different competitors in dog agility might run the course slightly differently between milestones.

3. Teamwork is everything

Teams can compensate for each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Hayden won one of his ribbons in agility on one of the hottest days of the year. His human partner made sure Hayden had a cold towel wrap right before the event so he would be at peak agility, but neglected to keep himself cool. When his handler stumbled at the end of the course from the heat, Hayden finished the course perfectly and WON. (There are no points deducted in agility if the handler falls ☺). With case management, the business team is empowered to work together effectively. Intelligent allocation can be done to level workloads, find the best skilled resources, and bring in collaborative advice from an expert network.

4. Understand the losses, Celebrate the victories

The golden and his handler learn from each event in dog agility. Though each new course you run will be different, you begin to understand techniques that could make you the fastest and most accurate the next time. The golden competes with all of his energy, enjoys the finish and celebrates the victories. In fact, everyone cheers for every dog that completes the agility course because that in itself is an accomplishment. In business, recognize and take satisfaction in each new account opened, each customer helped in record time, each policy offered and accepted, or each credit claim resolved. With case management more and more of these accomplishments will be possible in less time and with fewer resources and all of the learning of what was successful can be captured in the case ecosystem for the next time. When you do win against the competition or beat the SLA or go the extra mile to delight the customer, be sure to celebrate the job well done.

Speaking of Celebrating the Victories…

As one of my favorite gurus once said, “Celebrate what you want to see more of." -- Tom Peters

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And as one of my favorite goldens once "said," “WOOF” -- Talisman’s Hayden O’Briarland

Translation: “It’s fun to win! Pass the liver treats, please.”
 

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